The Gwadar Development Authority says it is trying to overcome electricity and potable water shortage
onstruction work for the Gwadar port had started in 2002. The port town was also expected to be developed into a commercial hub. For this purpose, Gwadar Development Authority (GDA) was established in 2004. For the last 18 years, the GDA has been responsible for most of the development, or lack of it, in Gwadar. During my visit to the city, I interviewed some GDA officials as well.
Mujeeb Qambrani, the GDA director general, said that a new Gwadar Master Plan had been prepared by the GDA in 2020. “Under the new master plan, Gwadar town has been divided into commercial, residential, industrial and tourism zones. The adoption of the master plan has been a historical step in the development of Gwadar. Development is a time consuming process,” Qambrani said.
He added that the development of Gwadar would follow the Shenzhen model. Not very long ago, Shenzhen was a fishing village. It has now become a leading commercial hub through its development as a special economic zone.
The proposal to relocate the residents of Gwadar’s old town has been dropped under the new plan. This is one of the oldest settlements of Gwadar. In most cases, two families live in one room. “The GDA is implementing a Rs 3 billion project for the regeneration of the old town. We are improving the drains and the sewerage system and aim to make it a model village - like the Saidpur village in Islamabad,” he said. He also said that the GDA was about to start a fully-equipped hospital for the people of Gwadar, with the support of Indus Hospital that would provide free of charge healthcare services to residents of Gwadar.
One of the biggest problems in Gwadar is water scarcity. Intense protests erupt periodically due to the shortage of drinking water. “This year, there is intense heat in Gwadar as well. However, you do not see any protests because we have fixed the water problem by installing new distribution pipes getting water from nearby dams,” Qambrani said. He said that in the long run two desalination plants with a total capacity of 6.2 MGD would resolve the permanently. The plants are currently under construction.
The problem of electric power shortage was visible on many occasions. There is apparently no fixed schedule for load shedding. Even when power is nominally available, the voltage fluctuation makes operation of appliances like air conditioners risky. The intense heat makes life difficult, especially for people who can’t afford alternative sources of power during the long load shedding hours.
Qambrani said he was hopeful that the electricity problem would also be resolved soon. “The federal government is negotiating an arrangement with Iran to import an additional 100 MW of electricity. This will end load shedding in Gwadar,” he said. He claimed that Gwadar will be connected to the national electric grid by the end of this year.
The GDA mandate includes providing an enabling environment for investment in Gwadar, the so-called crown jewel of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). However, given its water and electricity shortages and the security problems, Gwadar has so far failed to attract major investment. “We have made a Joint Coordination Committee for investors so that all of their issues related to the GDA can be resolved. We are doing our best to facilitate the investors and we are hopeful about investments in Gwadar,” he said. He added that the GDA planned to hold activities in Gwadar on a regular basis so that people from the rest of the country could visit the town. This will result in investment opportunities.
The New Gwadar International Airport is also under construction. Once completed, this will be one of the largest and most advanced airports in Pakistan. Still, people question the utility of a large airport in Gwadar, where only three weekly flights operate currently. “Once the new airport is operational several airlines will start flights to Gwadar. It will be a busy airport,” Qambrani said. He added that the new airport could be made the premier transit airport in Pakistan. This will increase the significance of Gwadar as a regional hub.
Additionally, the eight-hour drive from Karachi to Gwadar is breathtaking. Those who have travelled on the Coastal Highway can appreciate its potential as a tourist attraction. When the Covid-19 pandemic was at its peak and travel abroad was extremely difficult, thousands of tourists from all over the country flocked to Gwadar. This allowed the handful of hotels in Gwadar to make profits after a long time. However, with the international travel restrictions eased the flow of tourists to Gwadar has dried down.
The GDA is keen to capitalise on the tourism potential of Gwadar. Qambrani said that the GDA was conducting a detailed feasibility study on the potential tourism and heritage sites in Gwadar and how they could be made operational. “We hope to make tourism a thriving business in Gwadar,” the GDA chief said. He said the GDA had also asked the federal government to start a ferry service between Gwadar and Karachi. “This will allow people of Pakistan to experience long-distance ferry services. It will also help in the development of Gwadar as a prime tourist destination,” he said.
The writer is a journalist covering Balochistan, CPEC, politics and the economy. He can be reached on Twitter: @iAdnanAamir.